10 ways to keep food fresher for longer
By Ben Slater
Follow our simple fridge freezer tips for more flavoursome and nutrient-rich food, less wastage and less chance of harmful bacteria in your fridge.
Whether you have a high-end Best Buy fridge freezer or a budget model with few features, there are several simple steps you can take to improve the freshness of your food.
You'd be forgiven for thinking a fridge freezer creates the best possible environment for your food as soon as you switch it on. But our testing reveals this is far from the case.
Your fridge freezer and the way you're using it could be inviting potentially harmful bacteria to tuck into your food. Fridge temperature is certainly part of it, but it's about much more than simply twiddling your thermostat. Read on for 10 ways to keep your food fresher for longer.
If you're on the hunt for a new machine, you may want to look at the best fridge freezers before reading on.
1. Keep an eye on fridge temperature
Let's start with the most obvious – and perhaps the most important. If you want to get the most out of your food, the temperature in your fridge needs to be between 0°C and 5°C and the temperature in your freezer needs to be between -18°C and -20°C.
The faster your fridge and freezer get down to these temperatures and the longer they're able to keep them there are key to maximising the amount of nutrients in your food. That's why our fridge freezer testing focuses on cooling speed and temperature stability above all else.
But surely a fridge freezer should get within these temperatures automatically when you switch it on, you may well ask. The answer is no. Fridge freezers aren't just 'plug and play'. You need to set your fridge freezer up when you turn it on. To do this you'll need the manufacturer's recommended setting. You can find this in the instruction manual. Switch your fridge on this setting and it should hit these optimum temperatures. Temperature solved, right? Wrong. Our fridge freezers testing over the years has found you can't rely on these settings. In fact, the manufacturer's recommended setting on the worst models we've seen sends the temperature in the fridge soaring above 10°C – warm enough to invite heat-loving bacteria inside. The only way you can be sure of a fridge freezer setting that's spot on is to look for those models that score five stars in our recommended thermostat setting test.
Every degree really does count. While the wilted-looking leafy greens in the below right image may look several days older than those in the middle image, the leaves are actually both just three days old. The only difference is that the wilted ones were stored at an average temperature of 6°C, while the fresher-looking ones were at 3°C.
If you're not convinced by the accuracy of your fridge freezer's thermostat, you can pick up a fridge thermometer for less than £10.
2. Use fridge freezer shelves for different foods
No matter how accurate your thermostat is, the temperature in your fridge will still vary between shelves. It's best to think of your thermostat temperature as an average for the fridge because, as a general rule, the higher the shelf, the higher the temperature will be.
But that's no bad thing – provided you use of these different temperatures to get the best out of your food.
Raw meat, fish and seafood should be kept between 0°C and 3°C in order to lock in freshness and prevent harmful bacteria from tucking in. That means they should be kept on the bottom shelf or, if your fridge has one, a chill compartment that's specially designed for this purpose. It's a good idea to get meat, fish and seafood out of the fridge 30 minutes before you want to cook it, though, as this should help it cook more evenly.
A similar rule applies to butter and cheese, as you want them to soften a bit before eating. These dairy items are less perishable than meat, so they're best kept near the top of your fridge where it's warmer. Condiments are also a good bet for the higher shelves.
Finally, middle shelves can be used for leftovers, ready-to-eat foods such as soup, cooked meats and pizza and any fruit that has to be separated from vegetables because of ethylene (see below).
3. Make the most of fridge humidity
Your fruit and veg will stay fresher for longer if you store them at the correct humidity. Vegetables tend to like high humidity, while most fruits prefer low – as the images from our food freshness tests below demonstrate.
We separated a pack of strawberries and raspberries when new (see image, below left) and stored half at a low average relative humidity of 19% and the other half at a high average relative humidity of 65%. After two weeks, the berries at a low humidity (image, below middle) had certainly aged, but nowhere near as badly as those at a high humidity, which had developed a thick layer of grey mould.
So, if you have a humidity switch on your fridge drawers, make sure you switch it to high humidity for veg and low humidity for fruit. If you don't have a switch or only have one drawer, it's best to keep your veg in the drawer as that tends to prevent moisture from escaping and is therefore more humid. Your fruit can then go on a middle shelf in your fridge.
You shouldn't store fruit in a drawer that doesn't have a switch or contains vegetables. It's likely to produce ethylene, a natural gas that can over-ripen other fresh food when trapped in a confined space.
There are some exceptions to the rule to be aware of, though. Mushrooms are a vegetable that produces ethylene, while apples and watermelons are fruits that are sensitive to the effects of ethylene.
Check the technical specification in our fridge freezer reviews to find out if a model has humidity-controllable drawers.
4. Don't keep your fridge freezer in a garage or outhouse
Almost without exception, your fridge freezer won't have been designed to stored in extremely low temperatures (the same goes for very high temperatures, but there's not much risk of that in the UK).
As far as we know, Beko fridge freezers that come with 'Freezer Guard' technology, are the only models that have been designed to be kept in room temperatures as low as -15°C.
All other fridge freezers are likely to struggle to maintain a safe and stable temperature in these conditions, which won't do your food any favours and could even be unsafe. Our tests reveal that some models can't even keep a steady temperature when the temperature in your kitchen drops to 10°C on a cold night, or rises to 32°C during a heatwave.
5. Don't stack food too high in the fridge
If you can, avoid packing your fridge so full that food on one shelf is touching the shelf above. This can prevent cool air from circulating, pushing up the temperature in parts of the fridge and inviting heat-loving bacteria to tuck into your food.
Of course, not over-packing your fridge is easier said than done if you simply don't have enough space. Stackable sealable plastic containers can help you maximise the space in your fridge if you're really struggling to fit everything in.
Nevertheless, not having enough storage space is frustrating, so make sure you don't fall into this trap next time you buy a fridge freezer. Don't be taken in by the manufacturers' claimed volumes. They measure the space in the fridge and freezer with all the drawers taken out, which is obviously unrealistic.
As part of our tests, we measure usable volume so you know exactly how much storage space you're actually getting. As the graph below shows, the best freestanding fridge freezers contain 16% less usable space than the volume claimed, while the worst contain 34% less. Head to our fridge freezer reviews to pick out a model that's big enough for your needs.
6. Keep food in its packaging
You should keep your food in it's original packaging whenever possible, as it will almost certainly have been designed with food freshness and preservation in mind.
This is especially true of vacuum-packed meat packaging, but also applies to fruit and veg, where strategically-placed air holes can make a big difference to shelf life. Even foods such as cream and cheese often come with a replaceable lid or re-sealable opening.
If, for whatever reason, your perishable food isn't in packaging or you have thrown it away, you should keep it in sealed plastic containers, as these will help to prevent bacteria from accumulating and eating into the lifespan of your food.
7. Let leftovers cool to room temperature
Regardless of whether they're going in the fridge or the freezer, you should always let leftovers cool to room temperature before putting them inside your fridge freezer.
Otherwise, the warmth of your recently-cooked food will send the temperature in your fridge and freezer skyrocketing. Not only will that reduce the freshness of your food in the fridge – which needs to be kept at a stable temperature – but it will also force your fridge freezer to work harder to cool down, pushing up your energy bills.
Use our lifetime cost calculator to find the most energy-efficient fridge freezers.
8. Don't dawdle with the door open
Whether you're unpacking fresh food, getting out ingredients to prepare a meal, or writing a shopping list and needing to check what food you've already got, you should be as quick as possible and not leave the door open any longer than necessary.
It's easy to underestimate how much hot air floods into your fridge freezer each time you open the door. As with the leftovers (above), this hot air will eat into the lifespan of your food while also edging up your energy bills.
9. Use super-cool and fast-freeze
More and more fridge freezers are now coming with super-cool and fast-freeze settings. And yet, in February 2017 we asked Which? members who have these features how often they use them in, and less than one in five said once a month or more.
While it's true that you shouldn't use these settings too much if you want to keep your energy bills in check, we recommend using them whenever your unpacking food from a big shop. This is when your fridge and freezer will have to work hardest to cool back down, so it makes sense to use these settings to give them a helping hand.
After all, fractionally higher energy bills are surely a price worth paying if it means your food last longer, as this should help you waste less food and spend less money replacing it at the supermarket.
Find out about other useful features in fridge freezer features explained.
10. Buy a smart fridge freezer?
You might well wonder why you need a smart fridge freezer – or a smart anything for that matter – but more and more models are becoming available, many of them making bold claims about food preservation.
Take the Samsung Family Hub RB38K7998S4, for instance. It has internal cameras that let you check what's inside without opening the door by sending a picture to your smartphone. If you tend to forget what you already have at home when you're in the supermarket, this feature could help you waste less food.
When you get the food home, you can use the tablet on the fridge door to attach labels to your items and it will then keep tabs on how long your food has been in there, reminding you to eat it while it's still fresh or because it's about to go out of date.